Volunteer-run center in Mariupol provides rehabilitation for homeless children and children from troubled families


Initiative founded and run by a pastor gives shelter and re-educates homeless children, children from troubled families and drug addicts.

Kyiv, October 4, 2016. Rehabilitation center for children “Pilgrim Republic” has been active in Mariupol for 18 years. It is actually a family type home founded by pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko of the “Church of changes for the good”. “Republic’s” residents are former street children, children from troubled families and children with complicated behavior including drug addicts.

Over these years the center has worked with over 3,5 thousand children. It is currently one of the biggest centers of a kind on post-Soviet space. Gennadiy Mokhnenko spoke on how the “Pilgrim Republic” started and how it succeeds in getting teenagers out of dangerous life scenarios, via Skype at a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center (UCMC) in the framework of UCMC’s project “Spokesperson of peaceful life” implemented with the support of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Children’s naturally need to have someone “big, strong and kind” beside them

Currently there are 30 foster boys and girls of different age in the center. Gennadiy Mokhnenko was on air with his two sons – biological and adopted – the 32nd one already. “We call them all our biological children,” he noted. “I hope we will take two-three more children next spring”. According to Gennadiy it became possible to win trust and respect of their complicated foster children because they were striving to find such an adult friend and advisor. “Children have a natural need to have someone big, strong and kind around, someone who will support, defend, bring joy, indulge and inspire them,” he explained.

Eighty per cent of the center’s first foster children were drug addicts

It all started back in the 90s when Gennadiy was regularly feeding street children in Mariupol.

“At that time there were many street children. When they got used to the fact that food was brought to a certain place they started regularly gathering there, communicating among themselves and being friends. One evening several of them stumbled into our house in the middle of the night and asked: ‘Can we live with you?’,” recalls Gennadiy. “At that time we did not think that we would become the biggest center of a kind on the post-Soviet space and that dozens of films including the Hollywood-produced one will be shot about it” (one of them is the “Crocodile Gennadiy” documentary by Steve Hoover, award winner at Art Doc Fest film festival – UCMC). Friends of these first children followed. Those of them in most desperate condition, often in most severe forms of drug addiction, the pastor had to save against their will – to catch them forcibly at night.

“Eighty per cent of the first generation of our foster kids were drug addicted children and teenagers. Luckily this figure is considerably lower today,” noted Mokhnenko. In the end we have managed to bring up all of them one way or another.

Key factors in re-education of drug addicts

According to Gennadiy in order to actually help such a person drug addiction needs to be regarded not as a medical problem but rather as a spiritual one that emerged as a result of lack of attention by parents or by vacuum of values. These people need something they can rely on. “Another important re-education factor is the change of social environment: new people with positive values and principles need to emerge around. Drug addiction is not a sentence. If the person’s soul and surrounding changes, there are all chances of getting back to normal life,” Gennadiy noted. He added that all those years the center was helping not only drug addicted children but also adults.

Each of the center’s students has a different life path. Some have found the area of their professional interest or a job, or created a family. Gennadiy is trying to be in touch will many of the foster children.

Funding of the center

Daily needs of the center are financed through donations in full. “All our Christian community supports the work with children. There are people who bring us clothes, some consignments. That’s how we support our ‘Pilgrim Republic’,” noted Gennadiy.

To learn more about the life of the “Pilgrim Republic” and to support the center visit its web site.